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Landscape Plant Identification for Shrubs & Ground Covers

By Erika Sanders ; Updated September 21, 2017
Ground cover sedums are often identified by the patterns and colors of leaves.

Shrubs and ground covers make up a large category of plants available for your landscape. Both shrubs and ground covers make attractive, permanent features in your garden. In combination with one another they can create a display of attractive colors and shapes. Identifying ground covers and shrubs may take some work, but several web-based resources and print materials, such as the "Sunset Western Gardenbook," can assist you.

Evergreen Shrubs

One way to narrow your identification of a shrub is to determine whether it is evergreen or deciduous. Evergreen shrubs will retain their foliage and color throughout the year. They tend to be drought tolerant, preferring to grow in soil that drains well. Many evergreen shrubs do not produce a flower, but noting the absence of flowers will help you when you looking through an identification guide.

Deciduous Shrubs

Deciduous shrubs, unlike evergreens, will lose their foliage during winter. They also tend to produce flowers, often in spring. Deciduous shrubs are a large group of plants, which may prefer sun or shade. If you have an unidentified shrub in your landscape, take note of whether it loses its foliage in winter and what its blooms look like in spring. Also observe whether the shrub is growing well in a shady area or in full sunlight.

General Identification Tips for Shrubs

Shrubs are woody plants that, in most cases, have several trunks. To help you identify a shrub take note of leaf shape, including any significant characteristics--such as serrated edges or interesting vascular patterns. Also observe whether the leaves grow in an alternating pattern or directly opposite one another. If the shrub is deciduous, the flower in the spring will likely help you identify the plant.

Ground Covers

Grounds covers typically have spreading roots system, meant to cover larger areas of the garden landscape. They are low-growing, often not exceeding 12 inches even during blooming times. They are used for both weed control and to add an additional layer of interest to your garden. Ground covers can include everything from sedums to ajuga to creeping rosemary. If you have a plant in your garden that has a short but spreading growth habit, you likely have a ground cover.

General Identification Tips for Ground Covers

As with shrubs, the leaves of your ground cover will help you identify it. The size and shape of leaves can be compared to photos in online resources and garden guides. Many ground cover leaves are quite distinguishable from one another. For example, sedum leaves are thick and leathery, while creeping rosemary leaves are needle-like. Many ground covers also produce flowers. When your ground cover blooms, use the flower to help with identification.


About the Author


Erika Sanders has been writing since 1997. She teaches writing at the Washington State Reformatory and edits the monthly newsletter for the Collaborative on Health and the Environment, a national nonprofit organization. She received her Master of Fine Arts in fiction from the Solstice Program at Pine Manor College in Boston.